After relieving myself, I turned toward the men’s bathroom mirror to find the sink being shared with same performer who minutes ago was about to have his body split apart by four motorcycles. Gustavo was slowly and calmly washing the mud off his lithe body.
On that drizzly evening in Houston’s downtown warehouse district, the streets were being repaved, construction materials and its detritus was lying about with a thin layer of mud on new concrete. A perfect site for an outdoor performance.
As the four motorbikes started their engines, emerging from the exhaust, Gustavo, wearing only underwear, crawled on his knees and elbows to approach each vehicle from the rear tire. His foot or hand would slide between the tire and back bumper, at once caressing, penetrating and then retracting. Think of the animal tamer placing his head in the lion’s open gape. After each bike was sufficiently tested or taunted, Chantal Wallace would rope bind his folded limbs to prevent them from unflexing. His bounded joints were tethered to the backseats. Engines revved to a deafening roar. Riders inched their bikes to pull the ropes taut. With the engines roaring, this horsed-powered “pride” ran the real risk of quartering our performer. To this writer, it was the highlight of Experimental Action Houston 2019. Seré millones, by Gustavo Solar, February 2019.
I met with Gustavo a few days to later at his hostel. Our conversation meandered through a philosophical inquiry of his practice and his thoughts of what performance art can do and become. What emerges is a thoughtful, articulate artist concerned with the intellectual framework of his pieces, in tune with himself physiologically and ideologically, whose forward looking perspective invites and creates a vision of where performance can play a more central role in the arts of South America.
The following is an edited English translation, of our 45 minute interview.
Henry G. Sanchez (HS): Do you consider yourself a lion tamer?
Gustavo Solar (GS): What I'm a tamer?
HS: At your performance on Friday one of the things I noticed is that after they untied you, that you put your hand and foot between the rim, the wheel and the bumper. It seemed as if you made the gesture like the lion tamer, the tamer of animals…
GS: Oh but, the machines...
HS: Yeah, but you're a machine tamer.
GS: Yeah, yeah, I feel the same but, you know, I prefer to call myself, that is, think in the figure of a hacker, do you know?
HS: No. A hacker?
GS: Hacker, people who... People who know the commands of computers, the internet...
HS: Ok... Oh, good to know this, a hacker!
GS: Yeah, I think it's more propitious let's say, and more accurate, because there's a kind of intention to tame, say, but with knowledge, you know? As there is one, there is a question of power, it's about power, but also it's about knowledge, it's about hope to do it. You know? And, in this case it`s not about... It's not about doing it in a traditional, classic way, it's about taking other roads, other roads...
But also I think it's very important for me to have that kind of relationship with the, with materials, you know, that kind of contact. But, also a big reason, of wanting some kind of equality there... with modern things... - A kind of reinvention of the values or rebuilding of the values there.
HS: Ok, but you use machines in your performances. Cars, motorcycles, why not a computer? And for that matter why not a lawnmower?
GS: Yes, I'm very interested in these fetishes, in these objects as fetish, right?
HS: It's because the machines have a dangerous element...
GS: Yes, but also destructive, say for instance, it could be guns, weapons, but also they are erotic for us... so, it has this double sense, with more meanings, you know? I love to place myself this between. Between all these meanings, you can have some space there, and be there watching the senses and meanings of these fetishes, and I think with the car, the motorcycle. What is it like on the road, they are our modern fetishes, they are like our manifesto.
And, it is also very important for me for example the verisimilitude, how do you say this in English?
GS: Yeah, that's the reason maybe because I use machines, because they're like fake, they're artificial but also they are like living in a way, like breathing, like “vroom-vroom”, like doing something, like a drone. A drone is like, maybe like a bird, you know?
HS: It has this sense that there are two machines, one is the creators of machines, it is an extension of a person, do you understand? But maybe there another leg, or it's like a horse and rider, it's one, but half is an animal.
GS: And it's popular consumption right?
HS: When you started as an artist, did you start as a performance artist?
GS: Yeah, it was very like, natural to me, because when I was...
HS: You were not painting first?
GS: No, I was, I did this, in parallel. Because in my college it was about painting, drawing, about fine arts, right? But I always had the intuition with my body. I just went to the University.
HS: You just knew, this...
GS: Sure, I mean, I have 10 years doing this, 10 years is a lot. So I took a workshop, I remember, in an occupation with anarchist people, there I had a teacher there called Gonzalo Rabanal...
HS: And he is one of the leaders of the protest occupation?
GS: No, no, no, he is a performance artist also, but he was on a patriotic front against the dictatorship. He was like a guerrilla. That was very important because...I give credit to the academy, but the academy is not the same, it was as if there were two roads, two ways to study performance.
We have a political history in Chile that I find interesting to not fall into, into the trap of accessibility, that is, you have to deep down think that performance is a tool that can be used for many other things, not only to make art. And it's more complex, always, then it gets more complex. I think for me the future I have a lot to see... In other words, for me the ideal utopian future, it would have a lot to do with “occupation” in the pedagogy too. Because it is a way of understanding identity and processes of production and speech...
HS: Was your family very political?
GS: Yes, there is a little left of reference there, but I never wanted to be like too much. I did not want it to be like that. We (in Chile) have this loaded caricature and the categorization of being self-flagellating. I have this history.
HS: Therefore, it’s not about an autobiography.
GS: No, it's about more something open, but also with these notions and references. Yeah, I want it to be like that. But you touched on a very important topic for my work because there is a difference between, orthopedics and prosthesis, you know?
HS: Yes, there is a difference between prosthesis and orthopedics….
GS: It's very different, so, I like how to think that the products are delivered to the culture of masses, like orthopedics. So, when I do performance art, I do prosthesis with that orthopedics, you know? Extensions, about freedom, not about orthopedics per se, you know? It's something like that. That's why the reason to think about a hacker much more. Because one intervenes, intervenes on the surface and bends it, gives it a meaning that it does not have. But that it has to have, right? The hacker does this. There is a program there, and the hacker is like, “tuc, tuc” (typing gesture). Because he knows about it, but not in a classic way, but he knows you can change it from its first fact…mutate it.
HS: Exactly, it doubles over, and it turns around, yes I understand now.
GS: And that's very…liberating right? I do not know if this is revolutionary but for me it's like that.
HS: Maybe not, but you can contribute to this way of creating performance...
GS: Yeah, yeah, and share.
HS: Yeah that's right, this is can be more participatory.
GS: It's about “you can do it”, you know, It's about you can do it with your things, with your people. “You can do it this...”
HS: As a Chilean, how do you introduce your nationality in performances? I mean, because there are flags, etc...
HS: And how do they work together. There this hacker sort of a person, and a Chilean, and a person who is gay? How do all the parties stay together?
GS: Yes, but it's not that crossed, is it? Like inter-sectionality, but very strong. And I think that historically my country or my land, has a history of confrontation with the world. We have been intervened many times, I like to think of myself as a mestizo too, the Mestizo figure is crucial in the polarization of the world, right? For a moment, there was no such clear figure, it was the indigenous and the settler, but his coloniality was affecting who is there. So we are have that miscegenation that is positioning itself, and Chile has history not only with the colony, but with the dictatorship, which has been well strong and well, crucial actually, let's say for my generation for example. I was born when the dictatorship ended. It was over the same year I was born. So for me in that piece I can not to erase the fact that the United States has been the one who has intervened in our lands, right?
HS: Then there are the coincidence of the US history of 9/11/2001.., and Chile’s September 11, 1973.
GS: Yes. But I do not like to make propaganda. It's more particular because I want to do something new but political also. Yeah and it's difficult I think because we are used to receiving propaganda, right? Which is political history.
HS: No, that's a problem with performances today, there are many artists that mean well, but the performances become like a lecture, preaching. And to the choir for that matter!
GS: Yeah, for me it's